Have you ever had “Yoga brain“? When you feel almost drunk, relaxed to the point of passing out yet you’re still magically awake? That yummy state where anything goes? That’s how I first experienced yoga, at Down Under in Nicole Clark’s Relax and Renew on a chilly night back in 2016 as a freshman. And my journey from a freshman, unsettled and in culture shock (yes I’m from the UK but trust me, with a bit of 18 year old dramatic system it was definitely culture shock) to a 200 hour yoga teacher training graduate has been incredible. I’ve learnt so much and I haven’t truly absorbed everything. Yet I’m privileged to be looking back now and acknowledging it’s for the journey it has been.
And I thought there was no better way to share a couple of my realisations than from the profound state of yoga brain. It’s my first ever blog post. You’ll get what I mean.
Have you ever been constipated? The dry swallow as you envision a painfully slow struggle on the battlefield la toilet. Or the heavy wait. Or when you desperately google which prune juice brand is cheaper at Whole Foods. All the while you’re sitting at your grandma’s kitchen table, as a bowl of fresh raspberries patiently waits to be eaten. But you’ve been time traveling. Even as you read that, you flew your time mind machine to past experiences of constipation, or perhaps to the future being constipated. But has anyone ever pointed out that you’re suffering by wasting energy fighting the past and future? Especially when you should be just enjoying your grandmas raspberries? I wish!
My point here is this; my biggest lesson over the last six months has been learning to surrender to the process. Of life.
Because, just like when you’re constipated, no matter how much work your mind “feels” like it’s accomplishing, as long as you’re pushing or forcing, you’re hardly progressing. In that moment of surrender life can come in, and has for me, again and again, to remind me of the feeling of yoga. The mindset all of this practice has geared me towards experiencing.
So right out the start of our 200 hour training we established the knowledge of the eight limbs of raja yoga. In the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, he refers to them as a process to live more purposeful and joyful life. Thus we use the eight limbs to practice being in the mindset that is yoga.
Patanjali’s second sutra is the definition of ‘yoga’ – Yogas citta vrtti nirodha: yoga is the cessation of the whirlings of the mind stuff. These are:
Yamas - ethical constraints
Niyamas - self constraints
Asanas - postures
Pranayama - breath regulation
Pratyahara - sense withdrawal
Dharana - surrender to meditation
Dhyana - one pointedness of meditation
Samadhi - absorption, harmony.
I feel it is a basic human want to be mentally free. Yet we must first see past the inner workings and often deceptiveness of the mind and senses. So just like our story about being constipated, when the mind’s attention is drawn away from the present moment, it is not free. Nor when we’re attached to an outcome.
Which I was, when I began my journey of being “present”. If you look in my diary from the last three years, “I want to be present” is scribbled all over, in my phone and at one point covering my dorm with post-it notes. (Sorry roomies).
Although that maybe seem to be the “goal” of the 8 limbs by calming the “mind-stuff” – with the attachment to an outcome it was clearly unattainable.
When I started the yoga teacher training journey in January 2018, I remember wanting to feel like a ninja that has emerged from the mountainside, hair blowing in the misty dawn, equipped and ready to take on life. Huzzah. I thought the way to get there was to study like Dr strange, and I’d have it all. However, as I read Patanjali’s sutras, I practised more asanas, pranayama, and eventually most of the eight limbs seeped into my life. Life knocked with some sense at the door of my house. I realised that it wasn’t about attaining anything.
See, I think our perception is like a stage light, as you remove the colour gels only then will you find the pure light. Slowly peeling away the misconception of getting somewhere – that is the magic power. That is when your constant connection with god/life/nature/soul becomes clear. (^ same energy and source to me).
Think about it this way. I believed that my ninja clothes were indestructible. (Theoretically - I ain’t no ninja, sorry pal) My attachment to this was so set that I refused to acknowledge the hole in my crotch. So when the camera zooms in on my epic reappearance all they see is hole in my crotch. *Cut*. The laughter. Yet if I’d have acknowledged it for what it was, then I could’ve patched it up and kept walking tall. My point here is this:
I think we’re all living in our own little illusions. But through practice of honesty, acceptance and compassion they start to lift.
So when I graduated three weeks ago, I admittedly did feel quite accomplished, ready to face the world. But again life slapped me out of my haze and reminded me that growing doesn’t stop there.
I traveled to NYC for the first time last week, and the fast place forced me to face the present with acceptance. To flow with was waaay easier than to resist the constant fluctuation of NYC. I mean I couldn’t change that my corned beef sandwich had five times the amount of corn beef than bread. I had to accept it was meant to be.
And so I concluded that life is like a pendulum. There to help you grow and balance in a constant trying and failing, to and fro process. I’ve accepted this as the most constant thing in my life. When I’m ok with change I’m at peace, because trying to resist what might be, or what has been, is a waste of energy that could be spent hugging trees. Although at times I still get caught up in a constipated mindset and I’m still too stubborn to except I’m not a ninja, I’m definitely just at the beginning. These experiences to greater awareness, through practicing “yoga“, has made me so grateful to the University of life and all those who help me along the way. But remember, this uni don’t give no graduation ceremony especially if you’re trying to graduate in #Woke.
Thank you to Gregor Singleton, Kate Heffernan, and Angelica Hawley Dolan for guiding us through teacher training. All the support and mind boggling wisdom everybody else shared with us on the way. Sami Lea Lipman for asking me to write. Justine Wiltshire Cohen for founding the most amazing studio. Nicole Clark for everything.